Agricultural student Lydia Lee

The changing face of agriculture students

Tutors from two agricultural colleges in the South West share their thoughts on the changing gender balance seen in their student intakes.

Shane Plowright, Course Leader for Level 3 Agriculture at Bridgwater and Taunton College, Cannington Campus:

“We actively encourage applications from students with different backgrounds as they can bring a new view of the industry along with a unique skill set. And the fact we continue to see an increasing diversity is undoubtedly linked to a change of attitudes in the industry. As roles become more technical and specialised, there is a greater emphasis on skills rather than students fitting a particular profile.

“Our team works hard to challenge and break down any stereotypes students may have at the start of the course. We encourage them to consider career opportunities based on skills and talents, rather than factors such as gender or background. We actively engage leading female farm managers and industry speakers to raise the aspirations of our female students; this, together with the practical and theoretical college sessions, soon lead them to realise that gender is no determination of ability or potential. Word of mouth is very positive in encouraging more female students to join.

Challenging perceptions and building careers

“We are seeing female students enrolling on our vocational FE courses, with many progressing onto university programmes to pursue careers in farm management or allied industries. It is particularly encouraging to see females demonstrate outstanding practical abilities, to a level where we see them going on to the very best roles in arable and livestock enterprises. The previous perception of roles that female students wouldn’t go on to do has undoubtedly been challenged of late.

“Over the last 10 years we have attracted a wide range of students, with females often making up half the group. This year, 40% of our largest further education (FE) course is made up of females and 50% in our largest higher education (HE) group. Year on year, we are seeing a slight increase in young female students, with some inspired by friends working in the industry. With the continuing evolution of agriculture in the South West, it is encouraging to see the demographics of our groups reflecting the needs of the industry.

“Female students are now going into positions traditionally held by men. Careers are incredibly wide ranging, with graduates working for veterinary companies, machinery dealerships and in farm management, to name just a few.

“We encourage young women to see agriculture as a good career choice through the excellent opportunities we offer here at Bridgwater and Taunton College. Openings exist with livestock, crops and machinery in our theoretical and practical sessions, with an additional chance to progress to our HE courses.”

“Some students still feel there are barriers for females and new entrants into the industry, some of which are significant. While improvements have been made, there is still work to do. But diversity within the industry is sure to increase with more and more successful female role models, helping to meet industry demands.”

Lydia Lee, Head of Department for Agriculture at Kingston Maurward College:

“In recent years, we’ve seen the number of females enrolled in agricultural and land-based courses at Kingston Maurward remain relatively stable at 20-30%. In fact, the number of women studying agriculture at the college has remained stable since the 1980s. But we are typically seeing slightly more female students on our Level 2 & 3 courses compared to the Level 1 intakes.

“Once they leave Kingston Maurward, our female students enter a wide variety of roles in farming and related industries, but we tend to see more of them offered opportunities in agricultural administration compared to their male peers. Roles in contracting or with a machinery-focus are less popular with female students and can be challenging to enter, but we encourage all students to pursue roles which interest them and make best use of their skills.

“Although management positions in agriculture are still dominated by men, we really hope this will start to change as the industry moves forward. We are actively encouraging young women to see the prospects available to them with an agriculture qualification through informative marketing materials and careers advice. Ensuring they have strong role models and plenty of female teachers at college is also important.”


drones used for farming

Future Farming

Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time. 

Future Farming Programme